Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Album Retrospective: Miniature Tigers - Fortress

Album Rating: B+
As soon as I heard the almost Hit The Lights esque opening lines of “Cannibal Queen” from the Miniature Tigers last album Tell It To The Volcano, I took a mental note not to get to attached to the band. While the album was superb and is probably the best treadmill album ever made, it was obvious to me that the band was going to sell out on their next record. I figured the only thing I would like about Fortress would be the cartoon boobs that grace the cover of the album. I thought Fortress would be splattered with Nickelback like lyricism and Hinder like musicianship. I thought the Miniature Tigers were going to be the biggest mainstream sellout we have seen in recent years. Fortress though is the complete opposite of being a sellout record and it is a vastly different record from Tell It To The Volcano. What do we have to thank for this? The power of drugs.

Drugs have a lot of power over musical artists. I think most of us drool over The Beatles' last four albums while most of us think Eminem has not even come close to The Marshall Mathers LP in the past decade. What drugs do though, is help an artist embrace their creativity in a unique way. This is exactly what the Miniature Tigers do on Fortress and it shows in their trippy yet catchy lyrics, their experimental and effective instrumentation, and the overall quality of the songs.

The lyrics on Fortress are not exactly what we came to expect from the band on “Tell It To The Volcano”. The lyrics on Tell It To The Volcano were somewhat out there but mostly had to do with relationships and normal things regarding growing up. The lyrics on Fortress are some of the craziest things you will ever hear and are even somewhat nonsensical, but every song on this album has a lyric or set of lyrics that you just cannot get out of your head.

The first song, “Mansion of Misery” breakdown “I’m stuck in this negative vibe,” comes after a randomly great mid song rock out session and the uniqueness of this song makes it just as effective as “Cannibal Queen”. “Rock N Roll Mountain Troll” is probably one of the best songs 2010 has yet to offer us and the best lyric from this song is when the lyric “You look like me, the night I split in two,” leads perfectly into a powerful chorus. “Dark Tower” is one of the more relaxing songs the band has ever done and its chorus is very good and the lyric “Don’t say it’s the end because I can’t take it,” adds some much needed normalcy to a rather hectic and mind opening album. “Gold Skull” is a song that has a lot of great lyricism if you listen closely but the first line of the chorus “I watched my mind glow down in the smoke in a cannon,” is the line that sticks out the most. “Bullfighter Jacket” is one of the highlights of the album and the line “ I had to take my mask off to kiss you in the street,” perfectly captures the frantic mood of the track.

“Egyptian Robes” is probably the greatest thing the Miniature Tigers have ever done and the lyrical peak of the song is its chorus “Beneath the sheets in my room is my body just a tomb for the girls that I’ve had in the past?” “Japanese Woman” is even a better two minute interlude than “Giraffe” on Tell It To The Volcano, and a big part of this is the lyricist story about how his brother went to Japan and does not care about him any more because he fell in love. “Tropical Birds” is probably the worst song on the album but “Its their colorful feathers that hold me together," is still a great moment in an otherwise dull song. “Lolita” is by far the most experimental song the Miniature Tigers have ever done and the breakdown of this song is one of the albums shining moments. A female vocalist shouting the word “Coyote” at the songs intro highlights “Coyote Enhancement”. Overall the lyrics on this album while strange are still very memorable, fun and creative.

It becomes clear on Fortress that the band has improved drastically instrumentally. On Tell It To The Volcano it seemed like every song had the same feel and almost all of the songs sounded just about the same. While I love Tell It To The Volcano, I believe that Fortress does a better job at showing off more of the bands unique musical talents. The album has a much more beat driven techno feel while still keeping the fun treadmill feel of Tell It To The Volcano. In many tracks, multiple instruments are used so we can get a full grasp of all of the bands talents. What is even more amazing about the instrumental work is that it blends in perfectly with the nonsensical lyrics. I think it was probably a lot harder to find the right way to start off “Lolita” (Piano) than a song like “The Wolf” (which is just an average rock song). The fact that the instrumental work matches the lyrics perfectly shows the growth the band has had in creativity and in experimentation. Another thing that makes this album superb is that there is not really a skippable song on the album. Not only that, but many of the songs on the album can be considered “classic”. Each song brings a unique and different feel from the last song and this is a drastic change from the bands first album Tell It To The Volcano. The songs combine excellent lyricism and experimental instrumentation very well and that is what makes their quality so high. The bands growth in instrumentation and overall ability to make good songs are two of the reasons that Fortress is an excellent album.

I guess Fortress is the reason why we should never assume. While I assumed that the band would go in a lame mainstream direction they surprised me by creating what is essentially a superb stoner record in Fortress. Fortress is not the logical next step for the Miniature Tigers BUT it is a step forward and in a different direction. For this, you have to respect the band and respect the many drugs that probably made this record possible.

1. Mansion of Misery
2. Rock and Roll Mountain Troll
3. Dark Tower
4. Gold Skull
5. Bullfighter Jacket
6. Egyptian Robe
7. Japanese Woman
8. Tropical Birds
9. Lolita
10. Coyote Enchantment

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